Reflection on 26th Sunday: 29th September 2019

The Chasm Within

There are many questions that arise when we interpret parables literally, turning them into a story of historical fact. When we do that the questions are usually endless and unanswerable. Neither can we, however, treat parables as merely metaphor or symbolism that have no real life implications for how we live. So what about today’s parable? What is it saying to us and what is it not saying to us?

Image result for lazarus gulf rich

At some point in our lives we have probably all been both the rich man and Lazarus. We can all name times when life has been good, full, and easy. Likewise we can name times when it has simply left us destitute, broken, and in sorrow and suffering. I don’t think this parable is asking us to make judgments about who is the rich man and who is Lazarus. Instead, it is asking us to acknowledge and deal with the gates and chasms that separate us from each other. The gate and the chasm are the same thing. The chasm that separates Lazarus and the rich man in the next world is simply a manifestation of the gate that separated them in this world. The rich man carried it with him into the next world. It was a part of him. The gate is a condition of the human heart. The gate that becomes a chasm always exists within us before it exists between us.

That means we must each examine our own heart to find the gates that separate us from ourselves, our neighbours, our enemies, those we love, and ultimately God. What gates do we live with: fear, anger, greed, pride, prejudice, loneliness, sorrow, addiction, busyness, indifference, apathy, hurt, resentment, envy, cynicism. Gates destroy relationships. Every time we love our neighbour as ourselves, every time we love our enemies, every time we see and treat one another as created in the image and likeness of God, gates are opened and chasms are filled. It is something we must each live our way into. It’s a choice set before us every day. It can happen in our marriages and families, at work and school, on the corner of parking lots, and in our prayers for the world. It can happen in the most intimate of relationships, or with strangers, and even with our enemies. It is not easy work but it possible. Jesus demonstrated that in his life, death, and resurrection. Gates were opened and chasms were filled. Christ’s love, mercy, grace, and presence make it possible for us to open our gates and ensure they do not become chasms. He is the image of our opened gates and our filled chasms, the image of who we most truly are and who we are to become.

Michael Marsh

Reflection on 25th Sunday: 22nd September 2019

Wise Management

“Give me an accounting of your management.” It may not have been those exact words but at some time in our life, probably many times, an accounting has been demanded eg from our loved ones, HMRC, our boss, our examination of conscience. Giving an accounting can be an uncomfortable and even a fearful time. We review our words and actions wondering, “What have I done? What have I left undone? What will happen to me? What will I do?” No one likes to have to give an accounting. We’re pretty private about our books. Not only do we not want others to see the balance, sometimes we do not want to see the balance ourselves. We do not want to face and deal with that reality. But that’s what this accounting asks of us.

Today’s gospel calls us to account for our management of all that we are and all that we have. The demand for an accounting often sounds like someone is in trouble. That’s how today’s parable begins. The manager has been charged with squandering his master’s property. He is going to be fired. He will lose his job, income, reputation, and status. A part of him is dying. At some level he will lose his life as he now knows it. We would expect the manager to get what he deserves. But that’s not how the kingdom of God works and parables rarely give us what we expect. So we ought not to be too quick to come to a final or definitive interpretation of this parable. The parable offers ambiguity and tension, not a neat resolution and that feels a lot like real life. The accounting that should have been the manager’s ruin became the starting point for a new life, new relationships, and a new home. The accounting demanded of this manager was both an ending and a new beginning, a death and a resurrection.

What if accounting is not about finding wrongdoing but new life? What if it’s about grace rather than punishment? That certainly changes our usual understanding of an accounting but isn’t that what parables are supposed to do? They change the way we see and understand. If a parable makes sense we’ve probably missed the point. The accounting of our management isn’t about numbers, wrongdoing, or punishment but about helping us see and orient our lives in a new direction. It enables us to respond to Jesus’ invitation: “Make your home in me as I make mine in you.” (John 15:4)

Michael Marsh

Reflection on 24th Sunday: 15th September 2019

Make your home in me

The Younger Son

Leaving home is living as though I do not yet have a home, and must look far and wide to find one. Home is the centre of my being, where I can hear the voice that says, “You are my beloved.” I have heard that never-interrupted voice of love speaking from eternity and giving life and love wherever it is heard. When I hear that voice, I know that I am home with God and have nothing to fear. The younger son in me returns home in the very moment that I reclaim my sonship.

The Elder Son

The ‘homelessness’ of the elder son is more difficult to identify. After all he was physically at home and did all the right things. The more I reflect on the elder son in me, the more I realise how deeply rooted this form of homelessness really is and how hard it is to return home from there. Resentment and cold anger are not easily distinguished and dealt with rationally.
Both sons needed healing and forgiveness. Both needed to return home. Both needed the embrace of a forgiving father. All of us will someday have to deal with the elder son or the elder daughter in us. The question before us is simply: What can we do to make the return home possible? We must not only recognise that we are lost but must be prepared to be found and brought home. How? Although we are incapable of liberating ourselves from our frozen anger, we can allow ourselves to be found by God and be healed by his love through the concrete and daily practice of trust and gratitude. Trust is that deep inner conviction that the Father wants me home. Gratitude and resentment cannot co-exist since resentment blocks the perception and experience of life as gift.

The Father

Today’s gospel is a story that speaks about a love that always welcomes home and always wants to celebrate. Though I am both the younger son and the elder son, I am not to remain them, but to become the Father. Do I want to be like the Father? Do I want to be not just the one who is forgiven, but also the one who forgives; not just the one who is being welcomed home, but also the one who welcomes home; not just the one who receives compassion, but also the one who offers it as well? The return home to the Father is ultimately to become the compassionate Father.


Henri Nouwen: The Return of the Prodigal Son

Reflection on 23rd Sunday: 8th September 2019

Rooted and Grounded in Love

In today’s Gospel, Luke tells us Jesus was addressing “large crowds” where there would have been people in a variety of different places in their relationship to Jesus and his teaching. So many must have asked, ‘Who exactly is this teacher?’ Some people in that crowd may have had some awareness that Jesus was everything we are created to be.

Where do we find ourselves in that ‘crowd’? Do we truly and deeply long for all that is best, deepest, and most real in the human condition? Or, are we willing to settle for something less? Are we willing to allow some human relationship or our possessiveness to prevent our living fully our identity as being created in God’s image? If we desire true life, if we desire to live deeply and authentically we must take up our cross and surrender over and over any attachment, any clinging that might in any way separate us from the fullness of God’s presence in our lives. We will then ‘be rooted and grounded in love and have the power to comprehend the breadth and length and height and depth of the love of the love of Christ and be filled with the fullness of God’ ( cf Ephesians 3: 17 -19) We will grow in awareness that love is not really an action that we do. Love is what and who we are, in our deepest essence. Love is a place that already exists inside of us, but is also greater than us. We know that we’ve found a well that will never go dry, as Jesus says (cf John 4:13-14).

Choosing life with Christ means that every relationship we have with people and possessions must be understood from a new perspective. When we make that choice, we will eventually see that there is a tremendous irony in Jesus’ challenge to the crowds – and to us. Our growth in awareness of who we are in God will lead us to see others in their deepest essence and we will truly love “father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and even life itself.”

Adapted from various sources: Christopher Page, Nate Holdridge, R. Rohr

Reflection on 22nd Sunday: 1st Sept 2019

Do we know who we are?

A story is told of a gentleman at Los Angeles airport. Bad weather had led to the cancellation of many flights and consequently there were many people stranded and forming long queues in an attempt to change their flights. One gentleman, who had been waiting patiently in line for some time, finally left his place and stormed up to the counter demanding that the agent find him a first class ticket to Chicago and to do so immediately. When the agent very politely told him to go back to his place in the queue and wait just as everyone else had to do, he pounded on the counter and shouted, “Do you have any idea who I am?” The agent calmly picked up the microphone and made an announcement to the entire airport: “Ladies and gentlemen. There is a man here who has no idea who he is. If anyone can identify him, will they please come forward.” With that, the gentleman took his place in the queue and waited.

The more we grow in awareness of who we are in God, the more humble we will be and the more we will realise that we are all gifted and beautiful, faulted and broken in our own ways. And each of us is loved by the God who created and sustains us. That gives us a dignity that we don’t have to earn and that can never be taken away. Humility is an inner attitude that candidly allows us to know, love and accept ourselves. If we are humble, we see our talents and accomplishments as gifts and recognise our limitations and failures as opportunities for growth. Humility allows us to see ourselves honestly. Humility is a virtue which allows us to love ourselves with no pretences. Humility really frees us to be ourselves and to grow and change. Humility frees us from the need or compulsion to wear a mask and pretend to be someone else.

Since the humble are secure, they are strong. And since they have nothing to prove, they don’t have to flaunt their strength or use it to dominate others. Humility leads to meekness. And meekness is not weakness. Rather, it is strength under control, power used to build up rather than tear down. The humble are not threatened either by God’s greatness or the reflection of that greatness in the talents of others. In fact, this is what naturally catches their eye and absorbs their attention – the goodness of God, wherever it may be found. The form of prayer that extols God’s goodness is called praise. The activity that honours God’s goodness in other people is called affirmation. The humble take delight in praising God and affirming people.

Do we have any idea who we are?

Adapted from a talk given by Fr Ferrer Quigley O.P.

Reflection on 21st Sunday: 25th Aug 2019

Choose Life

Today’s Gospel is a patchwork quilt of images: who will be saved, the narrow door, closed door, the master of the house refusing entry, the kingdom of God, being outside the kingdom, weeping and grinding of teeth, people coming from East and West, being first, being last. Perhaps this passage doesn’t fit in with our concept of a God who loves unconditionally. The temptation may be to file this gospel passage under ‘Remind me later’ or we may want to press the delete button! We may also try to unravel only one image and focus on that. How can we bring these images, these ‘patches’ together to create a beautiful work of art and then wrap this ‘quilt’ around us so that once more we experience the reassuring warmth of God’s eternal and unconditional love.

Perhaps the thread that joins the patches together is our gift of freedom. Most of the world religions have some concept of heaven and hell. Why? Because human freedom matters. We have to be given the freedom to say no to love and life, and one word for that is hell. Heaven and hell are not geographic places. They are states of consciousness and they are right now. We choose right now if we want to live in a living relationship with God and our neighbour or we choose to live a life of excluding others, protecting our own individual identities and possessions no matter what it takes to do so, choosing separation from the source of all life, love and joy. We are choosing our destiny right now. Do we want to live in constant opposition to others and life itself? Or do we want to live in love and communion?

When we choose love and life we choose to walk through ‘the narrow door’. Jesus’ listeners would have known he was referring to the ‘Eye of the Needle Gate’ in Jerusalem. The gate was so small that a man would have had to unload his camel of all that it was carrying and then carefully lead his camel through this small gate. Jesus is inviting us to let go of any baggage that prevents us from moving forward. However frightening that might feel, we need always remember that everything that matters, from all the experiences and encounters in our lives, has been internalised and is always part of us. It will continue to enrich us. When we realise this, we will find a new freedom in letting go of all that does not matter; we will be saved right now (‘saved’ is from the Greek meaning true wellness, complete wholeness); we will experience God within us right now.

Adapted from various sources: Donal Neary, Margaret Silf, R.Rohr

Reflection on 20th Sunday: 18th August 2019

I came to bring fire to the earth

Anthony de Mello tells the following parable of the man who invented fire: “A long time ago, there was a man who invented the art of making fire. He took his tools and visited a tribe in the north, where the climate was bitter cold. The man taught the people how to make fire. And the people were spellbound. He showed them many uses for fire: they could cook, keep themselves warm, keep predators at bay and dance by firelight. So they built fire and were very grateful. But before they could express their gratitude, the man disappeared, because he wasn’t concerned with recognition or gratitude. He was concerned only with their well-being.

The fire-making man visited a different tribe, and began to teach the art of making fire. Like the first tribe, this tribe was mesmerised. But the tribe members’ passion unnerved the tribe’s leaders. It didn’t take long for them to notice that the fire-making man drew large crowds, and the leaders worried about lost influence and power. Because of their fear, the leaders determined to kill the fire-making man and they devised a clever plan because they were worried that the tribe people might revolt. Can you guess what they did? The leaders made a portrait of the fire-making man, and displayed it on the main altar of the temple. The instruments for making fire were placed in front of the portrait, and the people were taught to revere the portrait and to pay reverence to the instruments of fire. The veneration and the worship went on for centuries. But there was no more fire.”

The day will come when, after harnessing space, the winds, the tides, and gravitation, we shall harness for God the energies of love. And on that day, for the second time in the history of the world, we shall have discovered fire.


Pierre Teilhard de Chardin

Reflection on 19th Sunday: 11th August 2019

Waiting

“In many ways, waiting is the missing link in the transformation process.
I’m not referring to waiting as we’re accustomed to it, but waiting as the passionate and contemplative crucible in which new life and spiritual wholeness can be birthed.”

Sue Monk Kidd: When the Heart Waits

One reality of life is waiting; waiting for someone to show up, for something to happen, for things to change. Another reality of life is that most of us do not like waiting. We look for the shortest line at the supermarket or we become impatient, even angry, waiting for someone who is slow or inattentive. At some level waiting takes place every day. Each of us could name the things or people for which we wait. Sometimes we live with the overwhelming feeling of waiting but with no clear idea of what we are waiting for. In our waiting, we generally don’t wait in the present. We either move into the past or into the future. The great tragedy is that in doing so we lose the present moment. That’s part of what makes waiting so painful and difficult. Waiting in the past brings sadness, anger, or guilt about things that have happened, or the things done and left undone. Waiting in the future most often brings fear and anxiety about what will happen. We are haunted by the unknown and lack of control.

In today’s gospel Jesus is teaching us how to wait. He’s inviting us to be present to the One who is always already present: “Do not be afraid. It has pleased your Father to give you the kingdom.” The ‘kingdom’ is God’s life within us. (cf Luke 17:21) We are not waiting until we die to enter the kingdom. We don’t die into it. We awaken into it. (Cynthia Bourgeault) If we allow our waiting to be a time of growing awareness of the reality of God within us, within each other, within creation and within the circumstances of our lives, then it will be a time of transformation, a time when we discover the inexhaustible treasure within us, a treasure which no ‘thief’ can take from us.

We might be tempted to ask, “Where is God in all our waiting?” But maybe the better question is “Where are we?”

Adapted: M.Marsh. R.Rohr

Reflection on 18th Sunday: 4th Aug 2019

Enoughness

I was in a plane descending into Portland and I gazed upon a brilliant pink sunrise over blue and purple mountains, and my heart ached. Instinctively, I looked over to Eva to share this breath-taking moment, but she was sleeping. I felt incomplete, not being able to share the moment with her, or with anyone. Its beauty was slipping through my fingers. This was a teachable moment for me: I somehow felt this moment wasn’t enough, without being able to share it. It took me a second to remind myself: this moment is enough. It’s enough, without needing to be shared or photographed or improved or commented upon. It’s enough, awe-inspiring just as it is.

I’m not alone in this feeling, that the moment needs to be captured by photo to be complete, or shared somehow on social media. We feel the moment isn’t enough unless we talk about it, share it, somehow solidify it. The moment is ephemeral, and we want solidity and permanence. This kind of groundlessness can scare us. This feeling of not-enoughness is fairly pervasive in our lives:

  • We sit down to eat and feel we should be reading something online, checking messages, doing work. As if eating the food weren’t enough.
  • We get annoyed with people when they don’t act as we want them to — the way they are feels like it’s not enough.
  • We feel directionless and lost in life, as if the life we have is not already enough.
  • We procrastinate when we know we should sit down to do important work, going for distractions, as if the work is not enough for us.
  • We mourn the loss of people, of the past, of traditions … because the present feels like it’s not enough.
  • We are constantly thinking about what’s to come, as if it’s not enough to focus on what’s right in front of us.
  • We reject situations, reject people, reject ourselves, because we feel they are not enough.

What if we accepted that this moment will slip away when it’s done, and we saw the fleeting time we had with the moment as enough, without needing to share it or capture it? What if we paused and accepted this present moment, and everyone and everything in it, as exactly enough? What if we needed nothing more?

Leo Babauta

Reflection on 16th Sunday: 21 July 2019

Only One Thing

Unfortunately, today’s gospel story has often suffered from dubious interpretations, with Martha becoming the poster child for all that is imperfect with the life of busyness, the implication being that this life is inferior to a perfect life of contemplation. Most of us want to defend Martha probably because we have been in similar situations and can identify with her. The way in which she spoke to Jesus reveals her feelings of resentment, perhaps her own martyr complex, her need to be appreciated, needed and loved. Martha was everything good and right, but she was not present. This kind of goodness does little good! Distracted by her feelings, she couldn’t possibly have been fully present to herself and to the many tasks involved in the meal preparation. If she was not present to herself, Martha could not be present to her guests in any healing way, and spiritually speaking, she could not even be present to God. How we are present to anything is how we can be present to God, to ourselves, to loved ones, to everyone.

While we might distinguish between Mary and Martha there is a common theme: presence. “Only one thing is necessary,” Jesus says. The real gift is to be happy and content, even when we are doing the ‘nothingness’ of a chore, a repetitive task, or silent prayer. We can experience the ‘one thing’ whether we are sitting at the feet of the sage or engaged in service in the kitchen, or wherever we finds ourselves.

The presence of God is infinite, everywhere and forever. We cannot not be in the presence of God. There’s no other place to be. It is we who are not present to Presence. We’ll make any excuse to be somewhere else than right here. Right here, right now never seems enough. It actually is, but it is we who are not aware of that yet. Presence lies at the heart of life, prayer, and relationships. All spiritual teaching—this is not an oversimplification—is about how to be present to the moment. When we are present, we will experience the Presence.

Various sources: M. Marsh, J.Osten, R.Rohr